Monday, February 17, 2020

Support SB 106 a Prohibition of Fracking in Groundwater Management Areas

SB 106 is a BILL to amend the Code of Virginia by adding  62.1-195.3, prohibiting hydraulic fracturing in a groundwater management area. This bill will protect the essential drinking water supplies for about half of all Virginians from contamination from hydraulic fracturing also known as fracking. This bill was sponsored by Senator Surovell and passed the Senate with 32 Y and 13 N and one abstention. Now it faces the House. So, I ask you to urge your delegate to support the bill to protect this essential drinking water supply. .

“No person shall conduct any hydraulic fracturing in any well that has been drilled through any portion of a groundwater management area declared by regulation pursuant to the provisions of the Ground Water Management Act of 1992 (§ 62.1-254 et seq.). For purposes of this section, "hydraulic fracturing" means the treatment of a well by the application of hydraulic fracturing fluid, including a base fluid and any additive, under pressure for the express purpose of initiating or propagating fractures in a target geologic formation to enhance production of oil or natural gas.”

Senator Surovell was the primary patron of the bill before it was amended by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources to broaden the prohibition to all groundwater management areas from just the original proposed Eastern Shore groundwater management area. Currently, Virginia law prohibits drilling in the Chesapeake Bay waters and all of the tidal tributaries, but outlines the path for drilling to proceed in the Thomasville shale areas of the tidewater region.

The Eastern Virginia groundwater management area is the sole source of drinking water for much of this area and is currently under stress. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that the available groundwater supplies in the Eastern Virginia groundwater management area are insufficient to meet the demands of current and future groundwater users, so we are already scrambling to have an adequate sustainable water supply. It would be insanity to risk contamination of the drinking water for 4 million Virginians for a profit to a drilling company or a landowner.

Fracking is the current method of extracting unconventional oil and natural gas that is locked inside impermeable geological formations. Fracking is enabled by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (thus the name fracking). Fracking or hydraulic fracturing as it is more properly known involves the pressurized injection of fluids made up of mostly water and chemical additives into a geologic formation. The pressure used exceeds the rock strength and the fluid opens or enlarges fractures in the rock. As the formation is fractured, a “propping agent,” such as sand or ceramic beads, is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing as the pumping pressure is released. The fracturing fluids (water and chemical additives) are partially recovered and returned to the surface or deep well injected for disposal. Natural gas or oil will flow from pores and fractures in the rock into the wells allowing for enhanced access to the methane or oil reserves.

While Geologists and engineers believe that in hydraulic fracturing the intervening layers of rock prevent a fissure from extending into the water table, there have been instances of contamination of groundwater aquifers. The problems typically occur when fracking fluid seeps into drinking water wells through improperly sealed or abandoned drilling wells. The cause is human error or poorly designed wells. There has been no testing of proper well construction in shoreline sediment deposits. Virginia does not yet have a regulatory structure to ensure proper well construction and protection of drinking water supplies and there are thousands of current and old wells of unknown quality and construction in the aquifer. It would be impossible to prevent all accidents.

In addition, the water that is absorbed into rock formations may change the formations and the hydraulic balance in ways we do not understand and drawing large quantities of water in a short period of time may impact the groundwater whose level has been falling for decades from over pumping. It would be beyond foolish to risk contamination of the essential resource for profits to few.

This bill will not impact southwestern Virginia. Currently, there are more than 8,000 natural gas wells in the Appalachian plain where drilling required fracking in the extraction process. To date, there have not been any reports of adverse effects on water quality from the fracking, though the methodology used in coal gas fields is not the same as used in shale.

The Taylorsville Basin is located north of Richmond and extends across the Virginia Coastal Plain in the tidewater region of the state. In a 2011 study by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the area could contain up to 1.06 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, not huge, but potentially worthwhile economically. Shore Exploration, a Texas-based energy company, has reportedly leased the mineral rights from more than 80,000 acres in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula spanning large sections of King George, Caroline, Westmoreland, Essex, and King and Queen Counties. This area will be affected by this law.

Please email your delegate to support this bill and protect water resources in Virginia.

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